Living in California, we know we’re a little spoiled. Mild weather and beautiful scenery make it a great location to get the most out of our Winnebago Vista. We love to explore the beauty of our home state, and especially one of our favorite destinations: Sonoma County.
Located in the heart of the North Bay, just a short distance from San Francisco to the south or Napa Valley to the north, Sonoma is a great place to set up home base and explore the area. There is no shortage of awesome places to stay and things to see in the area and we’d like to share a few of our favorites with you.
Where to Stay
Sonoma County boasts some really great RV parks. Whether it’s Porto Bodega Marina and RV Park, which allows you to stay right along Bodega Bay, or somewhere a little more kid friendly like the North San Francisco North/Petaluma KOA. You can find RV parks which put you within arms reach of so many of the must-see sites nearby.
On our last trip, we stayed at the above-mentioned KOA. This is a large campground with all the bells and whistles you’d expect from a KOA. Complete with a pool, jump pillow and giant playground. It is definitely one of our kids’ favorite spots.
In the warmer months, you will also find plenty of organized activities, including kids karaoke, arts and crafts, and hayrides. We find it to be a great way to balance full days of exploring with plenty of relaxation and playtime for the kids.
Places to Eat, Drink & Explore
Bodega / Bodega Bay
This is one of our favorite destinations when visiting Sonoma. During the 30-minute drive from Petaluma (where the KOA is located) toward the coast, you will encounter some of the North Bay’s most beautiful scenery – abundant with rolling hills and rustic farmhouses.
Just a few miles inland from Bodega Bay, lies the quaint town of Bodega. Fun fact: this is where Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’ was filmed. You may recognize some of the scenery from the film. However, you don’t need to be a movie buff to enjoy the area. And if you’re looking for some fun, you can reenact a scene just like we did.
Sebastopol /Florence Ave
As you continue driving inland, you will find the small town of Sebastopol. A charming downtown with shops and restaurants make it a great place to stop for lunch or a cup of coffee. What really got our attention was Florence Avenue. This residential area showcases the works of urban folk artists Patrick Amiot and Brigitte Laurent.
Their “junk art” is displayed in front yards throughout the neighborhood. Made from recycled materials, they bring a wonderful sense of whimsy to the street. As we walked with our kids, we came across an array of sculptures – everything from Babe Ruth and Batman to the Three Little Pigs and the Wicked Witch – and couldn’t wait to see what was waiting for us at the next house.
When visiting this area, we will often try and squeeze in a visit to the Napa Valley. With beautiful wineries and award-winning restaurants, there is no shortage of places to eat, drink and take in the breathtaking scenery. Our most recent visit was in November, which we learned is one of the busiest times of year due to crush season (when grapes are harvested and wine production kicks in). While navigating the crowds was a surprise, the spectacular colors of the fall foliage more than made up for it.
For those traveling with kids, don’t worry. More and more we’re seeing kid-friendly locations where parents can enjoy a glass of wine (responsibly) while kids can run around and enjoy the fresh air. Our favorite is V. Sattui in St. Helena, which features a deli with a large selection of meats, cheeses, wines, and all the fixings you might need to enjoy a picnic on their beautiful grounds.
If a cold beer is more your speed, you’ll love the selection of breweries and beer gardens in Sonoma. Breweries like Russian River Brewing Co. and Lagunitas have pubs and tap rooms where you can have lunch and a brew.
You may not think breweries and kids would go together, but the Lagunitas brewery makes it easy for families (even those with small kids) to enjoy. Their Petaluma taproom has a wide-open ground with food, drinks and live music on most nights. Our kids loved dancing to music while mom and dad enjoyed a cold beer (again, responsibly). Pro tip: Many breweries also offer brewery tours, but you’ll want to book ahead and confirm age requirements.
Trips to Sonoma County and the surrounding area have become a favorite for our family. Beautiful scenery, breathtaking coastlines, art, culture, and plentiful wineries and breweries offer something we can all enjoy. During your next visit to Northern California, we encourage you to stop and explore for a bit. You will be glad you did!
Keep up with Karen & David’s latest adventures on Instagram @thecampingplaylist
Being a weekend warrior means that, at the end of a long week, you can leave the hustle and bustle and head for the hills, the mountains, the beach, or whatever location makes you happy. However, it can also mean that you are preparing for your journey while balancing the responsibilities of the workweek.
We have learned that, with a little planning and preparation in the days leading up to an outing, getting out of town can be easy and stress-free. Here are some of the tips and tricks we have picked up along the way, separated out for each day of the week – to make it more manageable.
- If you store your rig away from home, pick it up on Monday.
- Fill up on gas and propane.
- Once home, hook up to power. This allows ample time for the fridge to cool for packing during the week.
- Take inventory of items that stay in the rig, such as coffee, spices and those all-important s’more fixings, along with other non-perishable necessities – like paper products and trash bags.
- Plan your meals for the weekend and make a shopping list.
- Check your laundry situation. Are your beach towels still sandy from your last trip? When were your bed linens last washed? This gives you more than enough time to do any last-minute laundry you may not have gotten around to after your last trip.
- Do a safety check. Are your tires inflated to the proper PSI? Are your fluids at acceptable levels?
- Do the grocery shopping. Load what you can from your grocery trip right into the RV, as your fridge should now be at the optimum temp (if you hooked up on Monday).
- Prep any make-ahead food items. Are you making fajitas? Marinate the meat and slice the veggies. Are you having burgers? Wash the produce and make your patties. A little prep on the front end can make mealtimes easy on the road.
- Pack up the laundry you did on Tuesday, along with clothes you’ll need for the weekend.
- Replenish any toiletry items you might be running low on such as soaps, shampoos and toothpaste.
- Load any last-minute food items and other necessities.
- If travelling with kids, make sure they have all essential blankies and stuffies.
- Grab your travelers and head out for a magical weekend!
Being RV weekend warriors has a ton of advantages. However, it also means you now have two homes to keep stocked and maintained. This checklist has helped us get out of town quickly at the end of a long week, confident that we are well-prepared for the adventure at hand. We hope it does the same for you. Happy trails!
Just a short drive from the heart of Silicon Valley, lies California’s Santa Cruz Mountains. Complete with beautiful redwood forests, funky beach towns, and a vibrant surf and skate culture. This area really has it all. And since it is just under 100 miles south of the San Francisco area and north of Big Sur – it makes for a perfect stop while exploring the California coast.
We have been fortunate enough to explore this area extensively and wanted to share some of our best tips and favorites with you. Enjoy!
Where to Stay?
Nestled along the San Lorenzo River in Felton, CA, are several wonderful campgrounds that provide the perfect place to set up camp in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
These include the Santa Cruz Redwood RV Resort, Cotillion Gardens RV Park, and our personal favorite, Smithwoods RV Park. These are no frills RV parks, however, they are clean, offer full-hookups, and place you right in the middle of some of the most beautiful scenery in Northern California.
These campgrounds also provide convenient access to Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, where you’ll find great hiking and plenty of swim holes tucked away along the river.
Pro tip: Make sure you call these RV parks or visit their websites ahead of time. Some online maps may have you go routes that are not big-rig friendly, so confirm directions prior to visiting.
Where to Go?
Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park
Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park is a wonderful place to soak in the majestic beauty of the area while exploring their 40-acre redwood grove. While you’re there, check out the dozens of trails for hiking and biking, as well as swim holes along the San Lorenzo River. There are also several options for dry camping in the area (trailers must be under 31ft and motorhomes under 35 ft).
Roaring Camp Railroads
Located just minutes from the campgrounds is Roaring Camp Railroads – one of our favorite places to take the kids. With several train rides to choose from, you can travel through redwood groves, ride across truss bridges along the San Lorenzo River, or take a steam train all the way to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.
The kids and grandkids will also be excited to learn that Roaring Camp hosts ‘A Day with Thomas’ several times a year. This includes a 20-minute ride through the redwoods on Thomas the Train himself, along with plenty of activities like bouncy houses and a magician, plus a variety of arts and crafts back at the depot. And for those who aren’t as wowed by Thomas as our five-year-old, there are many other family friendly events and festivals throughout the year, including the Holiday Tree Walk and the Brewgrass Festival.
The Mystery Spot
Billed as a gravitational anomaly, the Mystery Spot is a fun stop for the family that won’t eat up your whole day (or the budget). With balls that roll uphill and floors that tilt to angles that make no sense, this place defies gravity. And guides add to the experience with their witty commentary and theories of how this place came to be, which will make your 45-minute tour fly by.
Pro Tip: Tickets are under $10, but tours fill up fast. You can visit their website and book your 45-minute tour and designated time slot to make sure you get a spot.
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
Since 1907 (that’s right, 1907!), the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk has been a destination for fun in Northern California. Admission is free (you just purchase tickets to play rides and games), and it is literally on the beach, The Boardwalk has become a favorite for our family. With attractions to suit thrill seekers of all ages, including the famous “Giant Dipper” roller coaster and plenty of rides for the little ones, there is a little something for everyone.
Fun Fact: During the fall months, The Boardwalk hosts an overnight campout at which families can pitch tents on the boardwalk itself. And when the weather heats up in the summer, they have a variety of summer concerts and movies on the beach.
For our family, the Santa Cruz Mountains provide the perfect way to experience the coast and the redwoods all at once. From coaster rides by day, to quiet campfires at night, and a whole lot of beautiful scenery and family fun in between, this area is truly a California gem!
Follow along with Karen, David, and their family on Instagram @thecampingplaylist.
We’ve always been a music family. If there is an occasion to celebrate, there is a playlist to go with it. So naturally, when we purchased our Winnebago Vista a couple of years ago, we created ‘The Camping Playlist’ – a collection of music, a mix of old favorites and new discoveries to accompany us on our adventures.
Music also plays a big role in our travels. It can set the tone for an entire weekend, be it a relaxing getaway or an upbeat party. It can affect our mood and energy. It can take us back to a special moment in our history or underscore a newly created precious memory.
As the holiday season approaches, many of us are preparing to head out for an RV getaway with our favorite people. And for many of us, the trip will include campers that span several generations – parents and grandparents, kids and grandkids, nieces, nephews, and cousins.
In our experience, crafting that perfect playlist that will please campers of all ages can take a little work. Is there a collection of songs that will keep your teenage daughter from rolling her eyes when one of Dad’s songs comes on? Could your young son and his grandma have any common ground when it comes to music?
We think so… and we’ve done the hard work for you. Just in time for the long weekend, we’ve crafted a playlist that promises to have all of your campers grooving around the campfire. From U2 and Tom Petty to The War on Drugs and The Black Keys, with a little Taylor Swift and Justin Timberlake sprinkled in, there’s something for everyone.
So, add these to your favorite music streaming device (or just use our Spotify playlist), take a listen, sing along, maybe discover something new, and most importantly, enjoy every precious moment. Safe travels!
- Where The Streets Have No Name – U2
- American Girl – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers
- I Want You to Want Me – Cheap Trick
- Heaven – The Walkmen
- Howlin’ For You – The Black Keys
- A-Punk – Vampire Weekend
- Better When I’m Dancin’ – Meghan Trainor
- Shake It Off – Taylor Swift
- Can’t Stop The Feeling! – Justin Timberlake
- Brown Eyed Girl – Van Morrison
- Holding On – The War On Drugs
- Bad Blood (Taylor Swift Cover) – Ryan Adams
- Gypsy – Fleetwood Mac
- Here Comes The Sun – The Beatles
- Gimme Shelter – The Rolling Stones
- Lady’s On Fire – Ty Segall
- Ring of Fire – Johnny Cash
- Hotel Yorba – The White Stripes
- On the Road Again – Willie Nelson
- Sugar – Nancy Sinatra
- Sweet Caroline – Neil Diamond
- Rebel Rebel – David Bowie
- Should I Stay or Should I Go – The Clash
- Sweet Child O’ Mine – Gun N’ Roses
- Free Bird – Lynyrd Skynyrd
Listen to more of Karen, David, and their family’s favorites on Spotify @thecampingplaylist.
We often head into our camping getaways looking forward to slow, relaxed weekends. As we pack the RV, we know we are one step closer to the crackle of a campfire and some quality time with our little ones. And while some of our destinations are the peaceful adventures we imagined, others have a bit of a different feel.
Many of our kids’ favorite campgrounds are those with busy pools, arcades, and a full slate of activities on any given weekend. And while these can be fun, it is also nice to be able to take a break from all of the hustle and bustle in favor of some quiet family togetherness. The following are a few of our favorite ways to slow down at even the busiest of campgrounds.
Star Light, Star Bright
You know that feeling when you escape the lights of the city, when the sun sets and the sky fills with stars you can actually see? It is at this time of day that we love to take family walks around the campground and point out stars, planets, and constellations to our kids. The problem for us was that we were a bit rusty on our high-school astronomy and were often taking guesses about which specific heavenly body was sparkling above.
This is why we were thrilled to discover Sky Guide, an app for your smart phone that uses your compass and camera to tell you exactly what you’re looking at. Whether it’s a star or Jupiter, there is no more guessing and we, along with our kids, are getting more closely acquainted with the night sky.
Knock, knock. Who’s there?
For mom and dad, sitting around a crackling campfire for hours is pretty easy. But for our kids – ages four and six – once the s’mores are done, they’re often ready to move onto the next thing. On a recent trip, we were sitting around a campfire and could feel the littles starting to get a little squirrely. Not ready to call it a night, we had a crazy idea. We pulled out our phone (we had wifi at this particular location) and did a quick search for kid-friendly jokes and riddles. Before we knew it, over an hour had passed, filled with non-stop laughter and silliness.
For those who lack the imagination for campfire ghost stories (or just don’t want to scare the kids right before bed) campfire riddles are a lot of fun. And in those instances when internet access is non-existent, we recommend investing in a couple of joke books. Trust us, hilarity will ensue.
Batteries Not Included
Campgrounds can be full of battery-operated gadgets. Drones and RC cars seem to be everywhere, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But, sometimes foregoing the technology can mean big fun. Harness a light breeze and fly a kite. Jump into adventure with Stomp Rockets. Slow down and focus with some family puzzle time, or channel your creativity with a Lego session. These are a few of the activities that keep our kids happy and our family connected.
Did someone say S’mores?
We love s’mores. Who doesn’t, right? The chocolate, the graham crackers, and the ooey-gooey marshmallow. It’s almost the perfect food, but sometimes it can be fun to try and improve upon perfection.
When we’re out, we like to create a s’more bar with several surprising additions to create that perfect bite. Try swapping graham crackers for Oreos. Add fresh berries or bananas. Or, our personal favorite, sprinkle in some crispy bacon. The possibilities are endless and the results are delicious.
Put the needle on the record
Our family loves music. In fact, on many of our trips, we have brought along our portable record player because few things compliment the sound of a crackling record better than a crackling fire. And for those days when the weather has handed us some unexpected showers, we have taken the fun inside with an indoor record party.
Letting the kids pick the tunes and practice their best dance moves can be a great way to keep the cabin fever at bay. For the quieter moments, we also enjoy playing some of our favorite Walt Disney classics on vinyl. We have been lucky enough to stumble upon a few of these throughout our travels and love to listen with the kiddos and imagine the scenes playing out.
Note: if you are in the market for a portable record player, they are pretty easy to find these days at many local or online retailers.
Campgrounds come in all shapes and sizes. For a family with young kids, the activity-packed locations can be a godsend. However, as with most things in life, balance is crucial. We have found that sprinkling in a few of these quieter activities among the organized arts & crafts or scavenger hunts make for weekends filled with fun for the kids, as well as the relaxation and quality time us parents hope for. We hope you enjoy!
What are your favorite family campsite activities? Let us know in the comments.
The RVing lifestyle has changed a lot over the years. Today, many RVers are full timers, and why not? The thought of living a nomadic lifestyle is amazing, and with more and more people having the ability to work remotely, it makes perfect sense. But, a full-time lifestyle may not be right for everyone.
With 9-5 jobs and school-aged kids, we have discovered that being “Weekend Warriors” suits us very well. When the hustle and bustle of day-to-day life starts to take its toll, it is a gift to look forward to our frequent weekend RV getaways, never too far from a new adventure or a relaxing campfire. But, because our time is often limited when we’re away, a little pre-planning is a must.
Through our RV travels, we’ve picked up a few tips and tricks that help us get the most out of our weekends and thought we’d share them with you. Enjoy!
1. Select the right destination
Choosing the destination is one of the most important elements of a successful weekend. We typically try to find campgrounds that are within 75 miles of our home. This makes for an easy escape on Friday afternoon after work. Although, we may venture a little further out when we have a few days off or a long holiday weekend.
Recently, we spent a weekend in Monterey, CA, which is about an hour away from our home. While we were only away for 48 hours, we were able to take in the beauty of the surrounding areas, including Carmel and Big Sur, while still having plenty of time for some relaxation and family time back at our campground.
Pro Tip: Remember to consider traffic in your area. One of our favorite weekend spots is actually a little further than some others, but because it’s on a route that avoids traffic, we get there in half the time!
2. Plan out your weekend menu
There is no shortage of delicious meals to enjoy on a camping trip. But planning for several days of meals in one shot can be stressful. What to buy? What to pack? What to eat on those late Friday arrivals?
Our advice: Keep it simple. When we arrive on a Friday evening, we like to make something quick and easy. We’ve heard some travelers recommend eating dinner on the road or even driving to a local restaurant upon arrival on a Friday. But for those who prefer to get to the campsite and stay there, the simpler the better. A few of our favorites include mac & cheese, premade pizzas, or the most classic of comfort foods – grilled cheese and tomato soup.
For lunches, cold cuts and veggies for sandwiches are also a great option. Prepping your favorite toppings (i.e. washing lettuce or slicing onion) at home further simplifies the process, making for an easy, space-saving option that will free up more of your time to enjoy what you’re there to do. (And if that is having a margarita on your lounge chair, well, no judgment).
Pro Tip: Cook something earlier in the week to take with you. We love to throw some pork in a slow cooker mid-week and then pack it in a Pyrex dish (our favorite recipe is here). Just 15 minutes in the oven and voila … campsite carnitas! Pair with your favorite tortillas and toppings and trust us, you will be the envy of the campground and have neighbors asking, “What’s cooking?”
3. Plan and pack ahead of time
We like to get up and go with the best of them. But sometimes, even spontaneity can take a little planning. This bit of extra effort on the front end will ensure that you’re ready to go when five o’clock hits on Friday.
We have found that planning meals and grocery shopping early in the week allows us to get a jump on packing. And speaking of packing, by doing a little each day, you can feel confident that you have everything you need without having to scramble around on Friday afternoon. It is also helpful to think about the clothes and toiletries you’ll need for the weekend and pack these a little each day, so you’ll be ready to go when Friday hits.
Pro Tip: Keep an extra set of kitchen and personal essentials in the RV to avoid extra packing. Also, create a checklist of everything you’ll need for the weekend, so you can keep track of items you pack throughout the week.
4. Optimize your check-in and check-out times
There was a recent article about how Americans only use half of their paid vacation each year. Crazy, right?! We tend to blow through every day we have allotted and do our best to make sure we get the most from it. When planning for a weekend away, we will try to leave early from work on Friday. Leaving early on Friday can help avoid the afternoon traffic and get you to your site in time to enjoy a couple quality hours of R&R. You will also have an entire Saturday to explore and adventure. Even better, consider taking Friday off completely and leave Thursday night. Doing so allows for two full days to enjoy, which sounds like a mini-vacation to us!
Pro Tip: Ask for a late check-out on Sunday. A few extra hours can be priceless during a great weekend getaway.
There are 48 hours in a weekend. By our count, that’s two beautiful sunsets, a couple of campfires, and lots of great quality time with the ones we love most. These simple tips have helped us get the most out of our time away with our favorite people and we hope they do the same for you.
Earlier this year we made plans to spend our kids’ holiday break chasing the sunshine with a visit to sunny Southern California. Warm climate and sandy beaches. No brainer, right? But after spending some time in the Sierras of Northern California over the summer, we decided this was a place we definitely wanted to experience in the winter.
When we changed our plans there were a lot of questions. Where would we go exactly? How cold would it get? Would there be activities for the kids? You see, last year California and the Sierras saw record-breaking snow fall the likes of which we hadn’t seen in years.
While this winter was shaping up to be a bit more mild (in California at least), we decided to plan our trip expecting snow and cold weather. The result was an awesome getaway that will likely become a tradition.
Below are some of our highlights:
Inn Town Campground
Nestled in California’s Gold Country (Nevada City to be exact), Inn Town Campground was the perfect home base for our winter adventure. Located at 2500 feet elevation, we were close enough for day trips to Lake Tahoe’s beautiful North Shore and all the winter magic it had to offer, without actually camping in the snow.
You may be familiar with Inn Town, as they have quite an Instagram following (over 10K followers). It is a wonderful, family-friendly campground that its awesome owners Erin and Dan built from the ground up. Complete with one of the most relaxing common areas we’ve seen, it’s was perfect for unwinding after a day of play in the snow.
What’s not to love about Lake Tahoe? With great food, breathtaking scenery, and access to everything from snow resorts to casinos, North Lake Tahoe is one of our family’s favorites. There are a ton of great places for the kids run around, a variety of local shops and restaurants for us parents to enjoy, and an abundance of walking trails and scenic views around every corner.
We highly recommend stops at Donner Lake and Emerald Bay, which are both less than 30 minutes by car from Tahoe City and are quite possibly two of the most majestic sites we’ve visited.
Soda Springs Mountain Resort
At the recommendation of our wonderful hosts at Inn Town Campground we decided to visit Soda Springs Mountain Resort and we weren’t disappointed. Our kids are ages four and six and we are always looking for places they can enjoy. With so many of the ski resorts tailored for older kids and adults, we were happy to learn that Soda Springs has a section called ‘Planet Kids’ that is designed for kids age seven and under.
At ‘Planet Kids’, our kids were able to enjoy mini-tubing hills, very beginner ski and snowboarding lessons, and even a tubing carousel. ‘Planet Kids’ was perfect for our little ones, however Soda Springs also includes an area called ‘Tube Town’ for older kids (a minimum height requirement of 42”), as well as standard snow slopes for the bigger skiers or snowboarders in your family.
Pro Tip: If you’re planning to visit ‘Planet Kids’ at Soda Springs, it is important to know that they limit capacity so you’ll want to buy your tickets online in advance to ensure your space.
Grass Valley /Nevada City
Only a few miles separate Grass Valley and Nevada City. Both have quaint downtown areas complete with restaurants and shops that both parents and kids will enjoy.
Our little ones were especially thrilled to visit Lazy Dog Chocolateria, a super fun candy shop and ice cream store downtown. And afterwards, Mom and Dad were like kids in our own kind of candy store as we explored the vinyl selection at Clock Tower Records right up the street.
With it’s own historic downtown, Nevada City offers a wide variety shops and restaurants to enjoy. Although we arrived late for it this year, Nevada City also holds a Victorian Christmas downtown, which we hope to attend next time. Although we found it to be a perfect winter destination it’s also a great place to visit in the spring and summer months. Located near the Yuba River, there are plenty of great trails for biking and hiking and some great swim holes, perfect for cooling off on those hot summer days.
During the winter months some head for the snow, while others seek out warmer climates. What we found in the Sierras and California’s Gold Country was a perfect middle ground and a wonderful location for our young family to enjoy the best of both worlds.
Keep up with Karen, David and their family on Instagram @thecampingplaylist.
When we decided to adopt an RV lifestyle, we had visions of epic road trips and creating great memories with our kids. So far, our experiences have lived up to those dreams. However, we have discovered that sometimes epic can require a bit of planning. How far would we go? Where would we stay along the way? How would we keep our kids entertained?
After careful consideration, we planned our most recent trip to explore the beautiful Pacific Northwest by way of Oregon, Washington, and Northern Idaho. Some of our favorite stops included Multnomah Falls and Crater Lake in Oregon, and Mount Shasta in Northern California, but we also encountered several kid-friendly campgrounds, shops, restaurants, and stops that our little ones loved.
When we were researching a route, we found tremendous value in hearing about other people’s experiences, so now we’d like to pay it forward and share a few of our kid-friendly favorites with you.
Hi-Way Haven RV Park
We all know RV parks can be hit or miss. There are those we like to compare to the kid equivalent of spring break, complete with jump pillows and swimming pools. We love these parks, but every once in a while, it is nice to find a park that is off the beaten path that offers an atypical camping experience.
Enter Hi-Way Haven. During our first long travel day, we were looking for somewhere close to the freeway, so we could make an early getaway the next morning, but we also wanted the kids to have somewhere fun to decompress after a long day of driving.
We found Hi-Way Haven to be a great family-friendly RV park in Sutherlin, OR. It was clean and modestly priced, but the best part was that it had its own drive-in movie screen. And it was a bonus that they were showing a kids’ movie while we were there.
Our kids loved watching under the stars, but just like a traditional drive-in, when the weather cooled down at night, we could tune our radio to the designated station and listen from the comfort of our own RV. The experience was awesome … now our only problem is that our kids have really high expectations for cool movie-going experiences.
This was our first visit to Portland, and we loved it. Not only was it beautiful, with its green hills, waterfalls, and views of Mt. Hood from what seemed like every corner, but there was also a ton to keep our kids entertained.
A few of our favorites stops:
Powell’s Books: To say this bookstore is awesome would be an understatement. It’s huge and houses a great children’s section, complete with a kids’ seating area. Our littles spent a lot of time here contemplating their purchases, because we all know how hard it can be to commit to just one Dr. Seuss book.
The Oregon Zoo: Whether you like lions, tigers or bears (oh my), you’ll find all your furry (and not so furry) favorites here. It surprised us to learn that the zoo is also a concert venue. With a stage set up right across from the elephant habitat, artists like Echo & The Bunnymen and Natalie Merchant were scheduled to play in the coming months. As big live music fans, we thought this was pretty cool.
Another great thing about the Oregon Zoo was that it had all the staples our kids wanted to see, but we didn’t need to be there all day to take it all in. We made it through the park in about three hours, which was perfect for us. However, if you’re looking for an all-day event, the Portland Children’s Discovery Museum conveniently shares a parking lot.
Deschutes Brewery: After a long day of chasing our kids at the zoo, Mom and Dad needed a beer. Several locals recommended Deschutes Brewery as a family-friendly restaurant the kids would love. The food was delicious, and the craft beer selection was even better. Bonus … it was loud enough that we didn’t need to police volume when our kids wanted to sing their latest Disney favorites.
That’s right. There is a Moscow in the United States, and we had the pleasure of stopping here for a few days to visit family. The drive from Oregon through Washington took us through the Palouse, filled with rolling wheat fields as far as the eye can see; the green and golden colors are breathtaking.
Moscow is a small town that lies right on the border of Washington and Northern Idaho, very close to both the University of Idaho and Washington State University. This university town was right out of a storybook, with great restaurants and what seemed like a park around every corner. Our kids played in the fountain at the center of town and their laughter echoed through the streets on the walk home. We knew we would be leaving a little bit of our hearts in Moscow.
One of our last stops on this trip was Bend. Its downtown area was adorable, with great restaurants, shops, and parks. Our favorite was Drakes Park on Mirror Pond, which feeds into Deschutes River. We stumbled upon this park after dinner at a nearby restaurant, and caught one of the most beautiful sunsets we saw on the entire trip.
When we set out on this trip, our only goal was to have a great time as a family. The scenery of the Pacific Northwest and unique charms of the towns we visited definitely left their mark on our memories. And while it did take a bit of planning to balance sightseeing with fun stops for the kids, the result was the epic trip we had hoped for, and one we’ll remember for years to come.
Keep up with Karen, David and their family on Instagram: @thecampingplaylist
You’ve decided to take a road trip with the family. You’ve selected the dates and destinations, so you’re ready to go, right? When RVing with kids, nothing is ever quite that simple.
As adults, we cherish the beauty and ever-changing scenery of the open road. However, the majestic beauty breezing by the window might captivate our little ones for about five minutes (if we’re lucky). When we were planning an RV trip with our kids (ours are 6 and almost 4), thinking about how we would keep them entertained and happy was just as important as planning our route and stops along the way. And a little time on the front end made a huge difference in ensuring the journey remained an enjoyable one for all of us.
Rest stop at Mount Shasta.
On our most recent trip, we departed from our home in Silicon Valley, up to Portland, over to eastern Washington and Idaho, then back down through Oregon’s Bend and Klamath Falls and California’s Mount Shasta. We traveled 2,000 miles across four states in a span of nine days. At the end of it all, our kids officially earned the title “Road Trip Rock Stars,” as they exceeded our wildest expectations for behaving, especially during some of our longest driving days.
In no particular order, here are a few of the things that saved our sanity during those long stretches on the open road:
The Allstays App
As we prepped for this trip, we heard a lot of great things about the Allstays app. For those who may not know, this app helps you find campgrounds in your area, gives you information about your route (including when you might encounter a steep hill grade or low-clearance bridge), and maps the locations of all the Walmarts, gas stations, and truck and rest stops along the way. We learned pretty early on in this adventure that our kids can tolerate about a four-hour stretch on the road before they start to get a little squirrelly, so it was critical that we knew when and where we could stop so they could snack and/or run off some energy. Allstays was especially helpful in this regard and helped us to avoid more than one meltdown!
The Goodie Bag
We’ll preface this by saying we are not above a little bribery to help keep the peace on a road trip. The week before we left on our trip, we made a quick trip to Target and the Dollar Store to load up on a bunch of fun, easy prizes and rewards for our kids (think blind bags, small craft projects, felt boards, and the like). The intent was to keep the bag itself as a surprise, but that didn’t last. However, once our kids knew we had a bag full of goodies, they couldn’t wait to see what was next. We were able to break out something new over the course of the trip, which kept our kids looking forward to – and behaving until – our next stop and their next treat.
iPads and LeapPads
One of our favorite things about our RV adventures is the minimal screen time our kiddos have while we’re out and about. This applies everywhere, except for those driving days when it is super helpful for breaking up those long stretches. Before our trip, we bought a few new educational games for their LeapPads and loaded up our iPads with several movies and TV shows they’d never seen. It was a treat for them to watch or play something new and a blessing for us parents, because they remained entertained for some of our longer stretches.
Travel Trays and Washable Markers
We picked up these plastic travel trays at our local craft store for about $5 each, and they quickly became one of our must-haves! Because our kids are still in car seats, we usually travel with the dinette table down. These trays were great because they fit over our kids’ laps when they were seated on the sofa or in their car seats. They also included compartments on each side to hold coloring books, crafts, and other activities. We also stocked up on washable markers for their artistic creations so they could let their creativity run wild without permanently altering the interior of our coach. Fortunately, any traces our little artists may have left on the upholstery came right off with a towel and a little water.
Truck Stops and Rest Areas
Rest stop Oregon/Washington border (along Columbia River Gorge).
If you’ve traveled down any freeway in the U.S., you have undoubtedly passed countless truck stops and rest stops. We had too, but had never taken full advantage of them until now. After hours on the road with little ones, you can imagine that cabin fever starts to set in. To be able to pull off at a travel plaza where we could gas up, park our rig, and make some lunch, or a rest stop where we could pull over for 20 minutes to stretch and get some air, was such a blessing. We were also pleasantly surprised by how nice some rest areas have gotten, with grassy areas and even some with play structures. This was a great way to stop, refuel, eat, and give the kids some time to burn off some of the energy that had built up after being in a motor home several hours.
We often hear that it’s not about the destination; it’s about the journey. We hope these tips make that journey more enjoyable and give your own kids the title of “Road Trip Rock Stars.”
When we decided to embark on a camping lifestyle, we were faced with several decisions regarding the type of vehicle that would work best for our family. Trailer or RV? Class A or Class C? How big? What floorplan? For context, we are a family of four with a very busy three year-old boy and a five year-old girl. My husband, who thoroughly researches any and every big purchase in our family, was more than happy to dive in and begin exploring our options.
We decided relatively quickly that a trailer wasn’t the best fit for us. We didn’t own a truck with which to pull a trailer, and weren’t particularly interested in trading in one of our current cars to buy one. This coupled with the fact that we both had history with RVs, pretty much cemented our decision. An RV it would be!
Over the next several months, our weekends began to include stops to local RV dealerships to look at virtually every model of coach on the market. We liked the space offered in a Class A, but thought that the quality and reputation of a Winnebago would put it out of our price range.
We came close to purchasing several other makes and models, but for one reason or another, they didn’t work out. They were too big, too small, or the finishes weren’t quite right. I realize I sound a bit like Goldilocks searching for the perfect bowl of porridge. But hey, it was a big purchase and we wanted it to be just right.
Then one day in December of 2015, we thought we had found it … the perfect RV for our family. My husband had been corresponding online with a dealer, seen photos, and started to negotiate price. This particular dealership was located about three hours from our house, but we had reached a point where we were nearly convinced that this was “the one”, so we were willing to make the trek to seal the deal.
Unfortunately, when we arrived, we found that the dealer had somewhat misrepresented the condition of the RV. There were a few unexplained (and unmentioned) dings, scratches, and leaks that should not have been present in what was being advertised as a brand new vehicle.
Needless to say, we didn’t pull the trigger and instead began the long drive home. To say my husband was disappointed would be an understatement. I was too, but it definitely hit him hard. So much so, that when we passed a sign on the freeway advertising one of those big fairground-style RV shows, I agreed to stop even though I really just wanted to get home.
As we began to explore rows and rows (and rows and rows and rows) of RVs, we had the opportunity to see a Vista. After our experiences earlier that day, the quality of this model really stood out. The layout was exactly what we had been looking for, and the extra features exceeded our expectations. After some discussion with the salesperson, we were also pleasantly surprised that we were able to make the numbers work within our budget. That day, Lola the Vista (yes, we named her Lola) joined our family, and today we couldn’t imagine our lives without her.
Ultimately, these were the reasons that we chose our Lola (hint…they had nothing to do with yellow ribbons in her hair):
The layout of the Vista worked really well for our family. We liked that there was both a sofa and dinette, and that the front seats swiveled around to become part of the living area. This has proven to be very comfortable for our family of four, and lends itself perfectly to movie nights and snuggles with our kiddos. It was also important to us that we could install our kids’ car seats to be forward-facing while driving. Having seatbelts in the dinette allowed for this and meant that we wouldn’t have rambunctious kids roaming free as we drove to our next destination.
2. Bunk beds
This was the ONLY thing that mattered to our kids. They thought the idea of bunk beds was the coolest and still exude unreasonably sweet levels of excitement every time they sleep in them. It is also great that they each have their own private space when they need a little quiet time, and that we have a “home” for all the toys and stuffed animals that seem to accompany us on our trips.
3. Jack-and-Jill bathroom
I had no idea how key this would be, but when it’s 6a.m. and the kids are still sound asleep, it is so wonderful to be able to sneak into the bathroom and back to bed without having to leave our bedroom. This feature has given us as much as an hour or two of extra sleep on occasion, which as our fellow parents know, is priceless.
In case you weren’t aware, kids come with stuff. A lot of stuff. There are car seats, bikes, toys, and stuffed animals they just can’t live without. This combined with camping chairs, grills, and other essentials, makes storage pretty important. While we are clearly not minimalists, the Vista has always had plenty of room for all of our creature comforts.
This is an all-encompassing category for all the wonderful things we never knew we needed. We love that we have a generator, automatic leveling jacks, a full-wall slide, an outdoor television and speakers. We have especially come to enjoy movie nights or listening to music under the stars!
We also appreciate that we were able to equip the Vista with a hitch to tow our Jeep Cherokee, which has given us even more freedom on the road. While these are all things that we would obviously survive without, we have come to really value the added comfort and convenience they add to our adventures.
Like many people, when we decided to buy an RV, we were a little overwhelmed with all the things we needed to consider. After all, this was a lifestyle choice we were making for our family and it was important that the RV we chose fit that lifestyle.
Now almost a year and a half into life with Lola, we can safely say that we made the right choice for where our family is today. As our kids grow, we may evolve into another model. But shhhh! Don’t tell my husband that or he will start researching now.
A Family Affair
A few months after my husband and I started dating, he invited me to meet his family. Big step, right?
This included his parents, older sister, brother-in-law, and niece. Fortunately, we hit it off and spent an evening sharing stories over dinner. Among them were several that centered around the experiences they had travelling in their Minnie Winnie – a cross country-road trip to Toronto, weekend getaways to the Oakwood Lake waterslides in Manteca (may they rest in peace), or exploring the Oregon Coast. Whether it was something funny their mom did, the music that played on repeat throughout their adventures, or the joy his dad got being in the driver’s seat, the memories were all filled with joy and fondness.
These stories rang familiar to me as I had similar experiences RVing as a kid with my twin brother and our grandparents in their own Winnebago. There was a common theme between the experiences I heard recounted that night and those from my youth. There was happiness. There was adventure. There were memories created that will last a lifetime.
Fast forward to 12 years later and here we are, now married with two kids of our own – a five-year-old daughter and a three-year-old son. We live and work in Silicon Valley, and find ourselves living a pretty busy existence. We always knew we would get an RV at some point, but figured it would be a few years down the road when the kids got a little older.
Then one day last year, a friend shared something on Facebook that struck us both. It was something about there being only 940 Saturdays between a child’s birth and their leaving for college. Hearing it stated like this, we became acutely aware of how limited our weekends with our munchkins were. Our weekends were ticking away and often times all we had to show at the end of them were another series of mundane errands completed or another birthday party attended. The experiences that we remembered so fondly from our childhood road trip adventures were few and far between.
We also started thinking about the time our kids had with their grandparents. You see, I lost my mom seven years ago and sadly, she never got to meet her grandkids. We are, however, incredibly lucky that my husband’s parents are a big part of our kids’ lives. They still actively RV and we had this wonderful opportunity to embark on some adventures with them while they were still enjoying their RV pastime.
The Road Ahead
And so, last year we decided it was time. We moved up our plans and became the proud owners of a Winnebago Vista. More on why we chose the Vista in a later post, but we were eager to get our adventures started. Now a year into our journey as an RVing family, we often take family trips with the grandparents. We are grateful to be creating so many special memories with our kids, and that we all get to share so many treasured moments – laughing around the campfire, sharing old family stories – that we wouldn’t have otherwise if we had waited to invest in an RV.
While we are not in a position to be full-time RVers, we do enjoy getaways at least once or twice a month. And with approximately 636 Saturdays left until our oldest heads off to college, we are thrilled that so many of them will now be spent exploring the open road with our favorite people.